Friday, May 28, 2010

Making Innocence a Myth

A recent 5-day study by Dr Mindy Blaise has received surprisingly little media attention, considering the nature of the research and the age of the subjects.

The Monash University researcher spent 5 days in a conveniently unnamed Victorian childcare centre trying to gauge the sexual knowledge and views of the 3-4 year olds at the centre. Blaise asked the children questions like, “Are you a flirt?” and “Have you ever kissed a boy?” Presumably, Blaise had to explain the word ‘flirt’ to the children. I doubt it is in the vocabulary of most toddlers.

Blaise believes childhood innocence is a myth (wishful thinking, perhaps?) and says she intentionally brought a topic into the preschool that adults usually ignore. She has since defended her work, stating that she was just raising issues that children are already discussing in childcare and kindy. So first she’s discussing topics that are being ignored and now she’s discussing topics that are already being discussed. It’s hard to know what to believe, but if the topic is usually ignored, that is probably because it doesn’t exist in the minds of 3 year olds.

She asked the children to comment on a picture of two crocodiles kissing and when one little girl concluded that one crocodile was a boy and the other a girl, Blaise concurred that the child's views were heterosexual. Seriously.

Psychologists and family groups had something to say about the research, with Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, one of Australia’s leading child psychologists, weighing into the debate, "It's part of the general adultification of children. Why the hell can't we just let children be children?"

Apparently, the parent’s consent was given. They would not have given consent to a random stranger to question their child’s sexual knowledge (in fact, they would doubtless have called the police), but they happily gave it to an academic. However, the difference between one’s child being asked questions of a sexual nature by an academic and being asked by a stranger on the street is non-existent because the effect is the same. To use Carr-Gregg’s term, the “adultification of children” occurs regardless of who asks the question.

Is it just me, or are parents far too quick to forfeit their responsibilities these days? Do they really think that allowing a stranger to probe their children with sex-related questions at the age of three will make the birds and the bees talk any easier when they’re 12? Chances are the kid won’t need it anyway. By 12, they’ll probably know more than the parents.

Blaise’s article appeared in the March 2010 edition of the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood which featured other articles about bringing the subject of sexuality into the early childhood educational setting. Considering the vast number of 3-4 year olds who have spent time in institutionalised care in the past decade, and the plummeting rate of literacy in primary schools across the nation, one might have thought simple phonics theory to be a more useful discussion topic for the esteemed Journal.

Kiss and tell: Gendered narratives and childhood sexuality; Australasian Journal of Early Childhood – Volume 35 No 1 March 2010, pp. 1–9

© Eva Whiteley 2010

No comments: